You finally sit down to talk and your heart sinks as they start to outline how scrolling marquees are going to revolutionise their business function.
What if you could point to an example which explains why perhaps their suggestion isn't such a great idea?
Why intranet management is so difficult
I sympathised with Luke Oatham as I read his excellent blog post on "The horrors of devolved publishing", but it was the throwaway comment at the end which caught my eye:
"I'll never forget in the early days, the proud publisher who posted an animated gif of his revolving head..."I've seen a lot of intranets. Most are good. Some are excellent. And they're all managed by highly-skilled, professional people who understand the field to a depth which few others appreciate.
Responsible for a complex, constantly evolving set of tools which touch every area of an organisation, they're expected to be a step ahead - identifying future technology to fulfil the organisation's strategy, while tactically supporting its day-to-day work with the existing intranet tools.
And yet, they're repeatedly forced to listen patiently as members of their organisation line up to explain why their site can't follow the design standards, why it must work "like Google and the iPod", have a four minute Flash intro which can't be skipped and picture of the regional director on the homepage smiling with his thumbs in the air.
The perfect intranet site.
How we learn from experience
It's just over four years since we started Intranetters - a community of practice for intranet managers - and I first spoke at a conference, the Melcrum Social Media Forum. More conferences followed - J. Boye, Ark Group, KMUK, Econique Business Masters to name just a few - and more Intranetters events and I've met many, many people who work with intranets.
I've enjoyed all these events, but they all have one thing in common. When the doors close, the stories start. The clients with their ridiculous requests, the misapprehensions, the misconceptions and above all the failure to understand the people, the tools and just what the purpose of an intranet is.
If I sat down one evening to redesign my car, then popped in to the local garage the following morning with my drawing on an envelope and asked them to make a few "tweaks". Because everyone uses the internet, they believe they understand what makes a great user experience. Unfortunately, this often means Flash intros, mystery meat navigation and animated gifs. As James Robertson of Step Two Designs told Intranetters in 2010, if people aren't listening to the advice of intranet managers, they're undervaluing their expertise.
What more can we do?
If there's one thing I've learned from Dave Snowden and his KM principles, it's that "tolerated failure imprints learning better than success."
There are excellent resources on the web which highlight good intranet design and poor internet webpage design...
- The Nielsen Norman Group's Design Annual recognises good design and Jakob Nielsen writes about web usability
- Step Two Designs' Intranet Innovations Awards recognise innovative and emerging ideas for increasing productivity
- Vincent Flanders' Webpages That Suck highlights poor design and usability on the internet
So why not create one?
What are the worst ideas you've heard and seen? The pointless animations guaranteed to increase "hits", the awful styles, the unusable navigation...
Send me stories, pictures, wireframes, screenshots... tell me why these ideas were supposed to work. Did you implement them? Or were you able to dissuade the client from a career-limiting mistake.
You can submit anonymously, remove logos... email firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll include the best ones here.